SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- More people are taking advantage of free lunch programs in Utah this summer.
Officials with the Salt Lake School District, which operates many of the federally funded lunch sites, say they're serving about 10 percent more lunches this summer compared to last.
Officials say the rising cost of gas and food is probably a factor in the increase. Food prices rose 1.3 percent along the Wasatch Front in June, according to Wells Fargo economist Kelly Matthews. Since last year, food prices have shot up 5 percent nationally, he said.
"A lot of people really need it at this point with the economy the way it is," said Kathy Iversen, a nutrition manager for the Salt Lake district who helped hand out lunches at Liberty Park recently.
Some families arrive 30 minutes early each day to stand in line for food and some seem overly hungry, she said.
"For some of the kids here, this might be the only meal they're getting," Iversen said.
About 10,000 lunches are served each day across 66 sites in the state.
The Ogden City School District served 10 to 12 percent more meals in June than it did in June 2007. Higher numbers have also been seen in the San Juan School District in the southern corner of Utah.
During the school year, schools offer free and reduced price lunches to students from low-income families. Summer meals are served in areas where many children normally use the free meal program, but are for anyone. Children only need to show up to get free meals over the summer months. Parents can eat for just $3.
The idea is for meals to be as accessible as possible during a time when families might not know where else to turn, said Luann Shipley, director of the Child Nutrition Office at the Utah State Office of Education.
"It feels good to know I'm not the only mom in that situation," said Sarahi Velazquez as her four kids lunched on burritos, carrots, applesauce, milk, graham crackers and baked chips at a Kearns park recently. "We are an average, everyday family. It's not just for low-income people. It's for everyone."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
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